Barnardos chief signals approval for 'more modest' child benefit payment

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CHILD BENEFIT could be reduced to a “more modest” universal payment, the chief executive of the children’s charity Barnardos has said.

With the Government set to press ahead with cuts in the welfare payment to families with children, Fergus Finlay said the amounts involved increased “enormously” during the so-called Celtic Tiger years. “I believe in a universal payment because all children are equal but I think the universal payment could be more modest,” he said.

Mr Finlay said the payment had been instrumental in lifting children out of poverty, and he wanted to see that situation continue. Any reductions should be implemented in a phased manner and savings should be spent on extra services for children. “I’d be opposed to slashing child benefit just for the sake of sending money back to the troika,” he added.

Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney yesterday said a cut had to be considered. He said it was correct to ask if it was fair that very-high-income earners got the same supports as people on low incomes. “At a time when you have to try and prioritise spending for families and parents and children who need financial support the most, then I think that it’s something that we need to consider,” he said.

A proposal for a two-tiered system of child benefit, with a flat rate and top-ups for low-income families, will be considered by Cabinet soon. Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton has received a report on family income supports which proposes retaining the payment’s universal nature, while reducing the flat rate from the current €140 and redistributing money withheld from wealthier families to those less well-off.

Fianna Fáil spokesman on social protection Willie O’Dea expressed concern about Mr Coveney’s comments. “Today we have seen another Government Minister come out in support of a two-tiered child welfare system while there have also been noises from Labour also offering support for this,” he said. “Families are genuinely worried at the prospect of as much as 30 per cent of their child welfare payment being cut.”

Sinn Féin spokesman on social protection Aengus Ó Snodaigh said his party would oppose any attempt to cut the payments.

“The cut is not necessary . . . If the Government wants to target high earners in the budget then it should go after their income. This would also be more beneficial for the economy,” he said.

The United Left Alliance (ULA) described the proposal as “shameful”. ULA TD Joan Collins said: “All of their pious talk of defending children’s rights with the children’s referendum is now exposed as a sham.”

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